A view from the Mississippi River

News | July 1, 2015

On the night of the strawberry moon, a sailboat made its way on the Mississippi River.

Drenched in moonlight, the boat moved along the places where the pelicans come to sit in the evenings. Barges passed by as they hauled their goods to ports in the south. In the middle of an urban place, yet on the river, quiet settled in.

Two white sails reached nearly 30 feet into the sky – a series of pulleys and ropes and cranks maneuvering their position as the wind and boat direction shift. A simple wooden handle guided the journey. A push to the left moved the boat to the right. A push to the right, and the boat shifted to the left.

The beauty is in in the simplicity of this 1983 boat, rescued from years of dry dock by Don and Linda Allebach. This is one of the places where they find great joy and peace.

“Our favorite thing is to just explore,” said Linda, assistant organist and a children’s choir director at St. Paul.

Sailing from childhood

Don learned how to sail from his dad, who learned how to sail from a textbook. As a child, Don took to the little lakes in Missouri to learn the craft with his father.

Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1996, he started sailing a bit with the Lake Davenport Sailing Club. He bought an old beat up racing boat with no intention of racing it. But what good is a racing boat if it’s not racing? A few nudges (or was it teasing?), and Don found himself racing.

“And he needed a crew,” Linda said with a smile.

Today, the Allebachs spend as much time as they can on the water.

Different boats, different experiences

The leisure sailboat is one that the Allebachs take friends and family on. They teach people to drive it, give them the chance to help maneuver the sails, to sit out on the bow and enjoy the wind and the sun (or the moon). If the wind is not strong, a small engine helps propel the boat when going upstream.

There are always snacks on board. Peanut butter Oreos, grapes, squeeze cheese and Ritz crackers.

The experience on an Allebach racing boat, on the other hand, is not as, well…leisurely.

New visitors to the boat first get a lesson on how to lean out of the boat so that they can help shift the weight when it tilts too much to one direction. Straps keep feet connected to the vessel.

Ducking is the next lesson – as changes in direction or wind move the sails, sometimes very quickly. A change in direction requires a fast duck down.

The experience of sailing on a racing boat is one of constant movement – balancing the boat, controlling the ropes, steering its direction. Attention to the direction and speed of the wind is key.

After time and experience, one can feel what needs to be done to move the boat on its course.

“It’s so natural,” said Don.

Gone sailing

The Allebachs enjoy traveling to race and take charter boats out to sea. They also offer sailing rides for charity auctions.

“We’ve met some really incredible people,” Linda said. “You can learn so much about another when out sailing.”

Back at the dock after a couple of hours out on the river with the leisure boat, the sails are back down and the life jackets are off. Visitors step out onto the slowly rocking dock and regain their feel for land.

Don and Linda wave goodbye as they talk about the next time they will be out on the river. Tomorrow night, they said, is racing night.

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